On dodging career bitterness to become the ‘other guy’ and escape ‘the depths of Mordor’

In what has become a disaster of a Mets season after so much promise in June, R.A. Dickey remains a highlight and perhaps the most inspirational story to come from on-field performances in this baseball season.

Dickey’s story has been well-told, but for readers of this blog who are neither Mets fans nor baseball fans, here’s some catch-up: Dickey was born without (or perhaps it atrophied as a youngster) an ulnar collateral ligament — the primary tissue that stabilizes the elbow — in his pitching arm. He shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without pain, let alone pitch.

He was drafted out of college by the Texas Rangers, but a team doctor discovered the oddity in his arm, and the team downgraded a promised $800K offer to $75 grand.

After wandering through the majors and minors and through several organizations for more than a decade — the very definition of a journeyman — Dickey has found success in his first season with the Mets this year by mastering the unpredictable knuckleball, a pitch so rarely used that only two Major League hurlers use is as a primary weapon (Dickey and Boston’s Tim Wakefield). Dickey is doing this at 35, an age when most professional ballplayers are in their decline stage (though some top-level pitchers do throw into their 40s, as do many knuckleballers).

Oh, and by the way, in the world of monosyllabic jock quotes, Dickey was an English major in college, is an avid reader, and is a thoughtful quote.

But what continues to strike me, and what gives me inspiration as a 38-year-old former English major with what feels like a stalled career and little understanding of what to do about it, is R.A. Dickey’s attitude about his own career, which saw such promise (and promise of riches) turn to a kind of professional wandering in the desert, and then to an eventual career reboot that is well on the way to redemption.

As he told the New York Times in 2008 (while still working on, but not yet perfecting, that knuckleball):

“‘Imagine winning the lottery and then losing the ticket,’ said Dickey, who signed with the Rangers because he assumed no team would give him a chance again. He reported to the minor leagues knowing that precious little was keeping his elbow together, that each day pitching could be his last.

“‘Every day I had to decide whether I was going to be bitter, if I was going to be that guy — woe is me, you know?’ Dickey said. ‘I had to choose every day to be the other guy.'”

Or, as announcer and Mets legend Keith Hernandez said in the Mets broadcast earlier tonight (in a bit of coincidental and unfortunate timing, just before Dickey gave up a game-tying home run), Dickey’s career was “in the depths of Mordor,” and now he is a candidate for comeback player of the year. Read the rest of this entry »

Supervising in purgatory

Beyond all apparent reasons of logic, I was given a supervisory role recently. For whatever reasons, all I can think of for supervisory role models are Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan and Jon Hamm as Donald Draper in Mad Men. At least I’m thinking in the cocktail era.

Perhaps it’s my own underlying feelings of general inadequacy— in work, in parenthood, in writing, in playing softball — but all Laurie at Punk Rock HR needed was four words to describe what I’m feeling: “Ur Doin It Wrong.” Yep.

Maybe it’s a function of not feeling fully grown up, somehow. When I was a kid, 37 seemed beyond grown up. I turned 11 the year my dad was 37, and he seemed plenty grown up to me. Hell, even the aforementioned, if fictional (and not really the best role model), Don Draper is right around that age. So how is it that I still have a hard time seeing myself now, at age 37, the same way I used to view other “grown ups” — though, truth be told, people in real life (as opposed those on to TV shows) around my own age don’t seem any more grown up than I do (or don’t). Not that I feel like a kid anymore; far from it. But it’s a sort of purgatory; neither here, nor there.

Is it a function of having poorly defined career goals? I want to write for a living, but I like to eat, too. And I like supporting my family (or, at least, half-supporting — Mrs. Icepick works, too, and we’re making about the same bucks). I like having and meeting responsibilities, but I somehow feel like I don’t meet them very well.

Is it a function of what Laurie writes of, in not achieving the results she’s hoping for in life and work? Is it a function of our generation? Or do I simply not have clear-enough results in my mind to shoot for to begin with?

No office space

Latchkey Man, written by my man Wek, led me to an interesting piece from NPR’s Marketplace, from commentator Dan Drezner:

“What does this mean for the rest of us? Younger workers who expected promotions when the boomers cleared out are going to have to stew in their own juices. With this job market, looking for a better opportunity elsewhere is not in the cards. Which means that Gen X-ers are going to have to listen to baby boomers doing what they do best — talk about themselves.

“Office politics across the country are going to get a lot nastier. Of course, it could be worse. Generation Y not only has to deal with the boomers, they have to cope with people like me complaining about them.”

(h/t Latchkey Man)

To which I say, that’s depressing, but hardly surprising from the generation that revels in spending its children’s inheritance.  Meanwhile, we keep on doing what we gotta do out of a sense of pragmatism and survival. We did it while combating the Boomers’ excesses. We’ll do it now, too — self-aware and tongue-in-cheek if we have to —and our long-term survival skills will be bolstered, when it is no longer an excess for the Boomers, but a necessity in this economic climate, which, while terrible for the retiring Boomers, is absolutely gutting our peak earning years.

Form follows bodily functions

“I don’t get it. Since when did passing gas become so hilarious?”

Only since there was human life on earth.

Little Children, Tom Perrotta

Laurie over at Punk Rock HR — The Icepick’s favorite blog about work — has an interesting post regarding pooping at work:

I have a very good friend who once confessed to me that he only poops at work. Apparently, it is the American dream to get paid to poop. Why poop at home if someone is paying you to work? Might as well poop on the clock.

I can’t top this, but I highly recommend her post. And for The Icepick, who believes a good day begins with Fortified™ blueberry Pop Tarts and a solid pit stop, it’s a good read. As I said in the comments, I used to believe in pooping at work, until I realized hygiene was not a high concern for some of my co-workers. Or, as Paulie Walnuts once said on The Sopranos:

“[B]acteria and virus migrate from the sole up. … Your average men’s shithouse is a fucking sewer. You look at lady’s johns you can eat maple walnut ice cream from the toilets. Eh! There’s exceptions. But the men piss all over the fucking floor, urinals jammed with cigarettes and moth ball cakes.”

Of course, any poop-related discussion brings the work of the brilliant Dr. Jingles to mind.

Read the rest of this entry »

$500 large per year — A modest proposal

By The Icepick, age 36½

I see The Times, somewhat tongue in cheek, has shown how difficult it is to survive on $500,000 per year for bailed-out CEOs struggling to make ends meet on the island of Manhattan (h/t Gawker).

Private school: $32,000 a year per student.
Mortgage: $96,000 a year.
Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year.
Nanny: $45,000 a year.

We are already at $269,000, and we haven’t even gotten to taxes yet.

Tongue planted firmly in cheek or planted firmly elsewhere, this is a big concern of The Icepick’s for these souls, the hard-working citizens of Kriegel’s Hedge Fund Class. Though they have made Manhattan unaffordable for anyone else — which in turn pushed slightly-less-wealthy people out to Brooklyn, making that borough mainly unaffordable for any new residents who are not insufferable and/or a part of Gawker’s creative underclass living the four-to-an-apartment life and accumulating crushing debt — and keep pushing that out 75 miles or so east and north (I don’t know Jersey except from The Sopranos, and I would say you could go south, but you might be saying “eek, eek” to the oh-so-smarter-than-humans dolphins), adding a layer of entitlement for some when you go east and a dash of the superiority complex when you land immediately north of Yonkers and New Rochelle — add in the fact that New York state government came to rely on the taxes paid by these industriously wealthy Manhattanites and can’t function without their tribute, making life even in small failing upstate cities, like, oh, say, Albany, Rochester or Schenectady unaffordable in their own bizarre way — they have a lifestyle to-which-they-are-accustomed to maintain of ex-cop drivers/bodyguards, dresses for the Botoxed wife’s attendance at charity galas, and helicopters to avoid LIE/thruway/Northway traffic to get to their summer homes on the edge of Long Island and along the rapidly overdeveloped and deteriorating shoreline of Lake George.

This, of course, overlooks the various companies’ boards who will not needlessly suffer as harshly as the CEOs they grossly overpaid and failed to supervise, or the fact that despite the President’s best intentions, most CEOs will worm a loophole out of this new pay stipulation and avoid the ignominy of buying a MetroCard and riding the subway with the Great Unwashed.

Nevertheless, The Icepick is greatly concerned for the welfare and quality of life of whatever few, poor CEOs who manage to get docked down to $500 large per year. After all, the Times earlier quoted a compensation consultant caterwauling: “That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus. … And you know these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend.”

Well, my initial thought was a modest proposal somewhat along the lines of Jonathan Swift, which would assuredly bring a kingly sum to carry the CEOs of child-rearing age through this summer in the Hamptons, or at least keep their mistresses in Prada or whatever for a while.

But, perhaps thinking that too harsh (and likely to contribute to declining enrollment in private schools, who would in turn probably hie their way to the altar of Washington, D.C., seeking their own bailout), I instead am somewhat inspired by this post on the behind-the-scenes legal wrangling involved in the forthcoming awesome-looking Watchmen movie, and am tempted to advise it as a suggestion for the well-heeled and classy class of bankers, CEOs and the like for whom $500,000 per annum is an unacceptably paltry, pitiable, and Dickensian sum on which to live.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s about time

Fine. They want to cut funding for HIV testing and smoking cessation, mass transit, road-fixing, and education. We can send grieving families, black-lung causing pollution, and another generation of disadvantaged teenagers with no real opportunities directly to their homes and offices later on. But how can you even think about adding tax cuts when more people aren’t making any money to tax because, you know, they’re out of work and there’s no work available? The trickle-down economy didn’t work for the middle and lower classes, so your tax cuts for your wealthy friends and donors will only benefit your wealthy friends and donors.

Or does the GOP simply want to be known as the terrorist organization of the House? (since Rep. Sessions seems so fond of their tactics; h/t Talking Points Memo).

So, it is with great pleasure that the President is going on the offensive, even a little bit, and even if he has to play the roles of both good cop and bad cop (via CNN.com):

“We’re not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that, for the last eight years, doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin,” he said. “We can’t embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face, that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or failing schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees.

“I don’t care whether you’re driving a hybrid or an SUV — if you’re headed for a cliff, you’ve got to change direction.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen out

Ashamed to admit I haven’t seen any of these films, especially in a year of such a relatively weak line-up of Oscar films (ironically, Revolutionary Road and Gran Torino are the two of this season’s Oscar-contender flicks I wanted to see, and both were largely shut out of the major nominations).

The Wire shares something with these films: They all serve as urgent dispatches on the way we live now. Wendy’s predicament—like Ale’s in Chop Shop, Marlee’s in Ballast, and Ray’s in Frozen River—resembles, if not in its details then certainly in its outlines, what millions of Americans are going through. Immersive and rigorous, these movies depict an experience that is at once common and unseen: the struggle of scratching out a living, or getting by without one.

As someone who knows upstate and its characters pretty well, I’d hazard a guess that I’d recognize a plenty of reflections in the characters of Frozen River.

What struck me about The Wire (and which apparently struck the Slate article’s author) was its portrayal of a reality not often shown on TV or in the movies, but which much of America lives. Outside of the New York City metro area, many of New York’s upstate cities look quite like mini-Baltimores of The Wire — from the urban plight of their undeveloped neighborhoods, to their machine politics, to their frequently politically/statistics-driven police forces, each with their own heroes and villains.

So how the hell is a tax cut going to help people like these, particularly a corporate tax cut? Haven’t we given tone-deaf Big Business enough help? Does bipartisanship essentially devolve into trying to humanize and make friends with the class bullies only to find out they really are unrepentant bullies (with utterly incompatible economic views) whose only hope is to make suffering worse and actively wishing for this country to fail (um, the very definition of anti-American) so that your side can pick up a few more votes in 2010?